26 Mar 2011

AO4 Literature Highlights...right now

Our Australianised version of Ambleside Online Year 4 is turning out to be an awesome year for my Happy Little Vegemite. Which is good, because AO4 has a reputation for being scary and hard and a big leap up from AO3 and we were feeling a bit nervous about it at the beginning.

It's kinda nice to be pleasantly surprised, isn't it?

It is probably the spectacular literature that has us most excited. Currently we're reading Robinson Crusoe and Bullfinch's Age of Fable for literature. Robinson Crusoe's central theme of reliance and dependence upon God's Providence whilst acknowledging the weakness and imperfection of man makes this book a must read Christian classic. In addition, it's a rollicking good yarn. Who amongst us has never dreamed of what he would take to a dessert island? (My husband and daughter, my kindle, some crates of Champagne and a few boxes of Godiva chocolates to start with...) Bullfinch, too is a classic, this one a compilation of the myths of ancient Rome, written with 'the charm of a storybook' to aid in the understanding of the allusions to the myths in literature and erudite conversation:
Our work is not for the learned, nor for the theologian, nor for the philosopher, but for the reader of English literature, of either sex, who wishes to comprehend the allusions so frequently made by public speakers, lecturers, essayists, and poets, and those which occur in polite conversation.
In Australian Literature we're reading Frank Dalby Davison's Children of the Dark People. Aboriginal experts nowadays deplore this book,written in 1936, but I don't. The story is about two Aboriginal children, Jackadgery and Nimmitybelle, who are separated from their tribe by an evil witchdoctor. The children eventually find their way back home with the aid of the spirits of the bush, in particular, Old Mr Bunyip, the guardian spirit of the land. The story is more a Western fairy story with Aboriginal overtones than a true story of Aboriginal life or religion, but the book has provided us with an excellent launching point for discussions on Aboriginal spirituality and philosophy, and Jemimah's insight into what makes a book really Aboriginal have been outstanding...for a white girl.

Our bedtime read is Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien. Okay, I know that this isn't an AO book, but it should be!! It is an exceptionally good story about a widowed mouse who enlists the aid of a group of rats to save her house - and ultimately the life of her son, Timothy - from the destruction of the farmer's plough. As soon as Mrs Frisby enters the rats' abode, she realises that these are no ordinary rats. They have electric lights to begin with, and radios and lifts and libraries. These rats teach their youth to read! These rats are clearly very special rats. They also seem to know an awful lot about Mrs Frisby's late husband. In fact they appear to know him far better than she does. The secret of the rats of NIMH is a deliciously unexpected one, but I'm not going to tell you what it is. You absolutely have to read this book!!

Our Australian literature family read aloud (well, it was until last night when we finished it) is the second in Mary Grant Bruce's Billabong series, Mates at Billabong. This is my favourite of the entire series, and Jemimah and her Daddy adored every word of this delightful book in turn. It's the story of Norah's last nine weeks of freedom at home at her beloved Billabong before she is to go away to Melbourne to school. Norah is determined to enjoy every last moment, but is somewhat disappointed when she discovers that she is going to have to share her last weeks at home with city cousin, Cecil, who is being sent to the country to recover from his recent illness. Read about Cecil's arrival at Billabong here:
In the garden at Billabong walked a slim youth in most correct attire. His exquisitely tailored suit of palest grey flannel was set off by a lavender-striped shirt, with a tie that matched the stripe. Patent leather shoes with wide ribbon bows shod him; above them, and below the turned-up trousers, lavender silk socks with purple circles made a very glory of his ankles. On his sleek head he balanced a straw hat with an infinitesimal brim, a crown tall enough to resemble a monument, and a very wide hat band. His pale, well-featured face betrayed unuttered depths of boredom.

The click of the gate made him turn. Coming up the path was a figure that might have been plaintive but that Norah was so immensely amused at herself; and the stranger opened his pale eyes widely, for such apparitions had not come his way. She did not see him for a moment. When she did, he was directly in her path, and Norah pulled up short.

"Oh !" she said weakly; and then–"I didn't know anyone was here."

The strange youth looked somewhat disgusted.

"I should think you'd–ah–better go round to the back," he said condescendingly. "You'll find the housekeeper there."

This time it was Norah's turn to be open-eyed.

"Thanks," she said a little shortly. "Were you waiting to see anyone?"

The boy's eyebrows went up. "I am–ah–staying here."

"Oh, are you?" Norah said. "I didn't know. I'm Norah Linton."

"You!" said the stranger. There was such a world of expression in his tone that Norah flushed scarlet, suddenly painfully conscious of her extraordinary appearance. Then–it was unusual for her–she became angry.

"Did you never see anyone wet?" she asked, in trenchant tones. "And didn't you ever learn to take your hat off?"

"By Jove!" said the boy, looking at the truculent and mud-streaked figure. Then he did an unwise thing, for he burst out laughing.

"I don't know who you are," Norah said, looking at him steadily. "But I think you're the rudest, worst-mannered boy that ever came here!"

She flashed past him with her head in the air. Cecil Linton, staring after her with amazement, saw her cross the red-tiled verandah hurriedly and disappear within a side door, a trail of wet marks behind her.

"By Jove!" he said again. "The bush cousin!"
These innocent, clean books with their good morals, positive character traits, and excellent role models, are must reads in our homeschool. We're reading them slowly - one each year - in the same way that children had to read them when they were first published at that rate. Love 'em.

Jemimah's current read-aloud - the one she's reading to me so that I can enjoy it with her - is The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford. We've only just finished reading Lassie Come-Home ( an AO4 free read) as a read aloud, so we've been able to have some excellent discussions on the similarities and differences between these two extraordinary animal journeys. Lassie is our favourite...what's yours?

Of course, these are not the only read-alouds that we have on-the-go at the moment. Also on the list of adored books are Edith Nesbit's The Railway Children; Charlotte Yonge's A Book of Golden Deeds; the humorous stories of Lucretia Peabody Hale, The Peterkin Papers (actually, I don't like this book much, but Jemimah and her Daddy both do) and another of Yonge's books, Unknown to History, a beautifully written historical novel with an incredibly convoluted plot of intrigue and treason based on the life of Mary Queen of Scots. We're currently gripped by the description of the Queen's trial in England. Another unputdownable book.

I could go on and on about the delights of AO4 right now. I've already alluded to the fact that Citizenship using Plutarch is going well, but we're also loving our Apologetics text, It Couldn’t Just Happen: Fascinating Facts About God’s World by Dr. Lawrence O. Richards. Imagine - Christian Apologetics at the age of nine! In Science we're learning how water finds its own level - a concept that Jemimah finds easy to apply to our recent floods, and studying volcanoes and earthquakes using Madam How and Lady Why by Charles Kingsley. I was initially a little worried about this book, since some homeschooling mommas whose opinion I respect had written disparagingly of it, but I find its format of a father speaking to his son about natural history lends itself easily to discussions of how the author's beliefs differ from ours, and the timing of the readings, just at the time of the Christchurch Earthquake and the Tōhoku Earthquake and Tsunami has been nothing short of Providential. I personally have learned so much!!!

Okay, now I'm going to stop. I've still to tell you about the successes we're having with Mimimus for Latin and L'Art de Lire for French, and Grandpa's Box for Devotions, but I suspect that you all lost interest ages ago and that I'm now just typing for myself. Do let me know if you'd like me to talk about something in detail. I'd be delighted to gush a bit more.

By the Way, there's a direct link to Ambleside Online on the tab at the top of my blog if you'd like to learn more about the curriculum I'm so enthusiastically positive about.

Until next time...


  1. I loved reading this. We follow AO somewhat, but not as closely as you do. We read Robinson Crusoe this year, too. Such a great book! And we are working our way through Plutarch, using the study guides from AO. Your comments about Bulfinch is making me want to try it. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH was one of my favorites as a girl!
    Thanks for all this info. I'm gobbling it up.

  2. I read all the way through. As we are a couple of years behind you, I'm looking forward to reading these books too!

  3. 'unputdownable' - love it!

    Always good to have you (and Jemimah) one step ahead.

  4. Sounds wonderful Jeanne. Every time I read one of your posts about Ambleside Online I am tempted to follow their schedule! Not sure how that would work with 6 children though...it just seems too daunting! Love the sound of what you're doing with AO4 this year. We are also studying Australia and enjoying it. So nice to know you're finding some joy in homeschooling after the ongoing crisis you've had to endure.
    Mel xx

  5. I won't do the tear~jerkers as read alouds any more. :( Some good reads in there, my friend.

  6. Jeanne, why have you chosen to study French and Latin in your homeschool? Is that CM-recommended or personal preference? (Curious because I cannot for the life of me read French; Italian or Spanish I can manage)

  7. I have a Billabong book around here somewhere! I found it for a steal at our library book store and bought it because it reminded me of you! Now, I must simply go find it and read it. Thanks!

    I love it when you post what you're doing. I can't wait to read about the Minimus and the devotions.

  8. This is truly wonderful to hear of your homeschooling days amongst hardship. Thank you for sharing, you are such a blessing and an inspiration to all.

    Would love to hear more about Latin and why you believe it is worth teaching. I would love to hear your opinion on this subject.

    Cheers xxx

  9. What an interesting array of books you ar currently reading. I love the Billabong books, and really must revisit them again sometime. Just need to find the time.

  10. You're speaking my language here, Jeanne!

    I LOVED reading aloud all of these books, especially Madam How and Lady Why, which we closed timely enough before the quake in Peru!

    And my son RAN AWAY with The Incredible Journey! He finished it during the very first week of lessons which left me scrambling just a wee bit.

    We just finished with tears our Plutarch's Lives study of Brutus coupled with Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, to examine the artistic freedom the Bard took. Gotta LOVE a CM-educational banquet!

  11. I have Plutarch sitting in the carport, waiting for a rainy day. Perhaps I should just grab him out and give him a good spot on the bookshelf so he's more available.

  12. Gush all you like, Jeanne, it's enjoyable to read and helpful. I LOVE reading detailed posts about why people are passionate about their education methods and resources!! It's so hard to choose between the excellent options we have. I clicked your Ambleside Online link last week actually, and added it to my list of possibilities.

    Can you perhaps elaborate on how you came to choose your home ed direction?

  13. Glad to hear your opinion of AO4. this is the time of year I start preparing. I'll have an AO1 and an AO4 next year. I'm really hoping the two will be more independant than this year because my third will be needing a lot of attention with his school work.

  14. Jemimah is doing a lot of the same books right now as our "Crayons," although we've been in Year 4 since September. We reversed the suggested order of some of the books, so did Kidnapped first and are now reading Robinson Crusoe--about halfway through it, just found "the footprint." We're also right where you are in Physics Lab, since we were doing something else for science until recently. Crayons and her dad found a tap (faucet) to take apart, and he also showed her how siphoning works.

    I told her a funny story I remembered from a book I liked when I was young, The Trouble with Jennings, about a boy at boarding school. The Jennings books were British so I don't know if they ever crossed your bookshelf. Jennings, after spending his bathtime pretending to snorkel with a rubber hose, unfortunately both left the hose dangling over the side of the tub and forgot to let the water down the drain, and the forces of nature took over...disaster in the bathroom and in the teachers' room below.

    (Apologies if perhaps you do not find floods quite that funny just now.)

  15. Hi Jeanne, great to hear how AO4 is going. Very interesting as usual.

    Oh my goodness, I certainly did not
    lose interest. In fact it was the French programme reference that got my attention the most. Jeanne, could you please do a post on how you have taught French so far. You refer to it alot mentioning resources here and there. I'd love to see how you put 'it' all together.
    Did you use L'Art de Dire' before 'Art de Lire'? Or did you use 'First steps..' only?
    Also could you post on how you began narrations with Jemima. With some readings Lucy needs to go sentence by sentence. I had to delay AO1 as she wasn't ready at 6, she still stuggles with some readings. I'm dreading exam time as she can't recall some readings even in the evening of the day of the reading. Any insight would be appreciated.
    Again. thanks for the post.


  16. So glad you are enjoying Children of the Dark People! I well remember Adaminaby and Grandfather Gumtree too.We "played" that story so often in the bush over the road from where we lived. I also enjoyed Rats of Nimh and of course the Billabong books.

    And Jeanne? A dessert island sounds like my kind of place! Nix on the lowfat yoghurt - just lashings of sticky date pud, or fig torte, or.....

  17. Just wanted to say hello from the Apple store in the Big Apple. Everyone has an iPad2 in hand(s).
    Wish you were here!

  18. I love listening to you gush! Please tell us more! My daughter is a year behind yours, and this makes me excited!

    Please gush on L'Art de Lire, Minimus, and Grandpa's Box! :)

    Thanks for sharing :)
    ~ A reader in Kentucky USA


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